Bring Me the Horizon's 'POST HUMAN: NeX GEn' is sometimes brilliant, often bumbling

The metalcore titans' long-awaited new album soars at a scale only they could achieve. However, its magnitude can be awe-inspiring one moment and cumbersome the next.

Bring Me the Horizon's 'POST HUMAN: NeX GEn' is sometimes brilliant, often bumbling

Even if you don't like Bring Me the Horizon, it's hard not to marvel at the run they're on. Two decades deep into their career, they've been on the cutting edge of every scene kid trend since Myspace deathcore, constantly reinventing themselves into metalcore artistes, alt-pop emo-teurs, and now hyper-metal aesthetes. Bigger than they've ever been and with no plateau in sight, they're assimilating into metal's legacy class by filling stadiums and topping festival banners worldwide, while simultaneously making their most adventurous, playful, convention-snapping music to date.

Scanning back throughout the whole history of A-list metal, there is no precursor to this band's trajectory. Specifically, the fact that they're becoming more celebrated the further they stray from their simplistically heavy roots. Metallica had one successful reinvention in their arc ("The Black Album"), and from there forward it was diminishing returns (Load, Reload, St. Anger) until they course-corrected back to pre-"Black Album" thrash on Death Magnetic, and have since foregone any real experimentation (the returns have continued diminishing anyways). Slipknot have been steadily tweaking their sound for almost 20 years now and most fans just want to hear the old shit. Avenged Sevenfold have been especially bold in their embrace of non-metal styles, and exhibited BMTH levels of ambition on 2023's Yeezus and Daft Punk-inspired Life Is but a Dream.... However, it was a musical disaster that's fractured their fanbase into pieces: The "play 'Bat Country'" OGs vs. the crypto-brained zealots who somehow think this sounds good.

Bring Me the Horizon might've been heading that way after 2019's uber-melodic amo, a commercial smash that drew in as many MCR diehards as it disappointed longtime fans, who took it as a sign that their breakdown and scream days were behind them. But then the U.K. crew did what bands in their cozy position rarely do: They actually got heavier, weirder, and, judging by the streaming figures of songs like "Kingslayer" and "sTraNgeRs," many fans would probably say better. Their late 2019 mixtape, Music to Listen to..., barely resembled any of the band's sounds to that point. Primarily composed by frontman Oli Sykes and keyboardist/programmer/producer Jordan Fish (who joined BMTH for 2013's revolutionary Sempiternal and became a crucial creative force in the band), the tape was an hour-and-15-minute blur of vibey electronica and muted electropop that seemed to suggest that another sonic overhaul was imminent.

That pivot materialized with 2020's POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR, the first in what was initially billed as a four-part series of EPs that will each have a different mood and sound. SURVIVAL HORROR was an explicit return to the band's metallic palette, bringing back the demonic screams and bludgeoning breakdowns of the pre-Sempiternal years, but retaining the glitzy synths and anthemic hooks that planted BMTH's feet in alt-pop with That's the Spirit and amo. Anecdotally speaking, it was the first time anyone in my life (including myself) had shown interest in BMTH since Sempiternal, as the songs sounded genuinely fresh and exciting, but also familiar enough to their "roots" that they scratched an itch I didn't know I still had. SURVIVAL HORROR was the best case scenario for a band in their position: A simultaneous return to form and a bold step forward that pleased new and old fans alike.

The next POST HUMAN installment was slated to arrive within a year, but NeX GEn didn't land on people's phones until last week. In that four-year gap, BMTH emerged from COVID lockdown as festival titans with a world-class live show, but the new project (it was unclear if it was going to be another EP or a proper full-length) was plagued by delays. The first single, "DiE4u," dropped in 2021, and nearly half of the 55-minute LP was trickled out in the intervening years. A planned release date for fall 2023 was scrapped last-minute, and a few months later, Fish left the band. His state of the art production and vogueish songwriting instincts were integral to BMTH's electro-pop transformation, and as the band continued to tease NeX GEn's creation on social media without offering a release date, the anticipation became laced with a nervy skepticism that the band wouldn't be able to pull off the hyperpop-metalcore hybrid they'd been building toward without Fish's handiwork.

Now that it's finally here, we know that BMTH — assisted by a team of professional songwriters and co-producers — are capable of making it over the finish line without Fish in the co-pilot seat. A hybrid of madcap metalcore, flittering electro-pop, and a dozen other rock sub-genres, NeX GEn is unlike any other album that's ever existed, and its sound soars at a scale only a band in BMTH's position could possibly achieve. However, its magnitude can be awe-inspiring one moment and cumbersome the next. It sounds like it was labored over up until the hour it was delivered to their label (because it almost certainly was), and its many dizzying layers can be both thrillingly zany and frustratingly migraine-inducing.

Forgive me for grabbing the low-hanging fruit of a Kanye comparison, but NeX GEn really does strike me as BMTH's Life of Pablo. Both in its inscrutable presentation (song titles with an idiotic jumbling of cases, extraneous outros that leave the stitches of their process uncovered, and a convoluted sci-fi concept that requires the boundless energy of a 16-year-old to even muster up the will to understand) and in the way BMTH are reacting to the zeitgeist here more than they're actually driving it. Pablo saw Kanye cherry-pick (or in some cases purchase wholesale) the contemporary rap trends (trap beats, triplet flows) that had eclipsed his vocal and production style in the mainstream. His music was no longer reshaping the landscape but responding to it, and while BMTH are still doing things on NeX GEn that even peers 10 years their junior have yet to try, so many moments on this album sound like BMTH interpreting specific reference points rather than innovating new ones.

Following the lead of hyperpop stars 100 gecs, whose sonic and spiritual influence hangs heavy over NEx GeN, the band's M.O. has become to gobble up other artist's sounds and spit them out coated in their own saliva. Sure, BMTH's DNA is dripping all over the final product, but the core ideas often still feel like someone else's, and the band are frequently swerving on either side of the line between clever homage and banal imitation. The latter yields some of their best work, the former some of their least inspired.

"DArkSide" interpolates Papa Roach's "Last Resort," Fall Out Boy's "Centuries," Nirvana's "Something in a Way," and otherwise cuts extremely close to old-school Linkin Park. "LosT," one of the shrewdest, catchiest, infectiously enjoyable songs in their catalog, is unabashed in its My Chemical Romance worship, with some pitched-up Laura Les-esque squeaks during the gecs-ian breakdown. "sTraNgeRs" evokes "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls, "n/A" gives Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?," the riff in "YOUtopia" could probably trick Shazam that it's Smashing Pumpkins' "Cherub Rock," and "liMOusine" is eye-rollingly Deftonesy (and, as many people have pointed out, suspiciously similar to Moodring's "SYNC.wav"). The drum 'n' bass interlude "[ost] p.u.s.s.-e" doesn't just sound like a Sewerslvt song, it literally is one. BMTH tapped Cynthoni (FKA Sewerslvt) to produce what virtually amounts to one of their solo songs, and sandwiched the abrasive instrumental in between two of NeX GEn's worst tracks,"AmEN!" and "DiE4u."

The former is an emo-core jumble that's both boring and annoying, with wasteful, ill-fitting features from Lil Uzi Vert and Glassjaw's Daryl Palumbo. The latter is co-written by Lady Gaga songwriter BloodPop, but its saccharine emo-rap hook desperately mimics Post Malone's lifeless chirp, and its chintzy EDM synth sounds like it belongs in a Vegas resort commercial. Whereas "YOUtopia" and "liMOusine" are songs that could've benefitted from more of the band's own sauce, "AmEN!" and "DiE4u" are instances where BMTH went overboard, mashing together a bevy of song ideas that compete more than they complement one other.

When everything clicks together, though, the band are better than anyone in their genre at applying Soundcloud-bred production techniques to roof-raising metalcore. Over the years, that genre has become increasingly divorced from its raw hardcore roots and remarried to the worst aspects of modern radio rock; insipid overproduction, robotic clean choruses, guitars that don't even bother to hide how programmed they are. The vast majority of BMTH's big-room metalcore peers from over the last 15 years sound pathetically manufactured, but with NeX GEn, BMTH find an artistic way to embrace the maximalist post-production that hampers their tacky contemporaries. The songs are chopped up, glitched out, and loaded with vocal tracks that could never be "organically" replicated live, but the artificiality is exactly what makes the best tracks special.

"Top 10 staTues tHat CriEd bloOd" opens with a chiptune carousel beat that Bladee could feasibly rap over, and the g-force breakdown sounds like it spent a day in A.G. Cook's Pro-Tools; the double-kick drum blasts and precise guitar chugs are spliced with aqueous bass gurgles and pinging synths that explode like a Mario mystery box full of coins. In the Underoath-assisted "a bulleT w/ my namE On," there's a point in the ferocious breakdown where a celestial angel voice cuts in for a split-second, and then echoes back at a lower pitch two measures later. The post-hardcore ripper is already a highlight as is — and it's the best thing Underoath have done since their 2015 reunion — but that tiny detail is the standout moment, and one of several points on the record that make me react like the smoking duck gif.

BMTH have had trendy vocal effects in their music since 2010's prescient "Crucify Me," where they let Skrillex manipulate Lights' hymnal coos into a helium-voiced stutter, and synths have been as important to their sound as guitars since Sempiternal. But the hyperpop ethos they've now adopted puts NeX GEn in a new tier of cyborgian extremity. In "LosT," the actual sonic tenets of hyperpop — cutesy auto-tune, plucky digital drums, a major-key vocal melody, squelchy synths, and diced-up rhythms — are blended in with down-tuned metalcore guitars, brash screams, and cheekily morose lyrics about suicidal ideation. It's an amazingly successful fusion of two sounds that, on paper, couldn't be more different. On the other hand, "R.i.p. (duskCOre RemIx)" sounds like an alternate dimension where Umru produced a song on the 2012 Warped Tour compilation. Sadly, the concept is more interesting to think about than the product is enjoyable to listen to.

In other tracks, the heavy-handed post-production might not sound like a P.C. Music release, but the disposition of left-field electro-pop is still guiding BMTH's creative choices. Sykes' flash of low screams in "n/A" mirror the way a hyperpop singer might employ a pitched-up ripple, toying with the hyper-un-poppiness of metal in a way that winks to their genre's most garish attributes. The bones of "Kool-Aid" aren't dissimilar to a Sempiternal rager like "Antivist," but it's easier to envision the fragmented flow of "Kool-Aid" — with its whiplash transitions and jarring guitar/synth tradeoffs — being constructed in a project file than being worked out in a practice room.

Even when the studio fuckery is properly servicing the album's best songs, NeX GEn is still a lot to take in — maybe too much. Each song is packed to the brim with stacks of vocal tracks, bombastic guitars, and circuit-shorting electronic sounds. There's already enough going on as is, so all the pointless interludes and extraneous outros feel like studio busywork that only burden your ear with excess junk. The witch-house-y "[ost] (spi)ritual" at least offers a reprieve from the onslaught of noise, but "[ost] p.u.s.s.-e" serves no functional purpose, and by the time "DiE4u" — a lackluster, three-year-old single that BMTH fans have heard dozens of times by now — concludes, the Grimes-ian robot sketch introing "DIg" makes the album's closer feel exhausting before the seven-minute ballad has even begun.

Every BMTH album besides SURVIVAL HORROR has been a few songs too long, but NeX GEn's bloat weighs heavier on the ear, and as a body of work, it's their least cohesive to date. That's not surprising given it was gradually pieced together over the course of four years, with a major songwriting force exiting the process during the home stretch. It's less a linear album than it is an assortment of "woah dude" ideas squished together under one hood — and that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you have the patience to take it all in, then NeX GEn will keep you guessing until the final note, and you'll walk away with a handful of titanic choruses rattling around in your head.

I think there's enough greatness here to keep them gliding at the upper echelon of arena metal for many years to come. But assessing this record from the perspective of someone whose interest in BMTH over the years has wavered between total infatuation and complete indifference, I think listeners have to buy-in to BMTH's whole thing for NeX GEn to be more than just a field for farming some new playlist adds. I still feel the same exact way about Life of Pablo. The years-long buildup, the delays, the drama, the slapdash collabs, the indigestible girth of the final product — all of that stuff was as key to appreciating the album as the songs themselves. And all of that extra-musical baggage applies to NeX GEn as well.

Even though the record just dropped, I can't snuff out my curiosity for where BMTH will go from here, especially since there's ostensibly still two POST HUMAN albums left in the series. Whenever it arrives and whatever it sounds like, I just hope it's not their ye.